Yorkshire cycling website


Otley Road segregated cycle route

Traffic on Otley Road, Harrogate
Otley Road, Harrogate

North Yorkshire County Council is planning to build a segregated cycle route alongside Otley Road, Harrogate. (Please do it properly or not at all).

Otley Road cycle route consultation

Cycling on Otley Road, Harrogate

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is holding a community engagement event to discuss the proposed segregated cycle route on Otley Road. It will take place at Harrogate Grammar School Sixth Form College, on Monday 21st January 2019, between 2pm and 7pm. NYCC officers and designers will be present, to discuss the schemes. (If you can't attend, you can submit written comments to area6.boroughbridge@northyorks.gov.uk).

NYCC was successful with a bid for funding from central government. The sum is £4.6 million, and it is to pay for improvements to junctions on Otley Road, 'smart' traffic lights, and better pedestrian crossings, as well as the cycle route. It is called the West Harrogate improvement package.

There's a draft plan of the cycle route. These are Harrogate & District Cycle Action's comments on the reasons why a quality cycle route is needed, and my comments on the detailed design.

I suggest the key points are:

  • The cycle route is much needed. It is a short distance from the residential areas here into town - easily done in a very few minutes by bike. At the moment, people are expected to put their lives in danger by mixing with heavy traffic, which can't be right.
  • The cycle route must be safe, with physical protection from the traffic.
  • The cycle route must be convenient. That means it should be continuous - there is no place for 'end of route' signs in the middle of routes because the council can't work out how to do a particular section. It also means it must have priority over side roads and driveways: if you make it give way to motorised traffic on every occasion, it will be useless, people who already ride bikes won't use it, it won't attract any new cyclists, and therefore won't do anything to increase active travel and reduce congestion.
  • It should be part of a complete network. The main connecting route into and out of the town centre is Beech Grove, which is a bad cycle route. A cycle-friendly route, either on Beech Grove or across the Stray, needs to be created - not in 5 or 10 years' time, but urgently.
  • So-called smart traffic lights should not be an excuse for giving even more priority to vehicles. People on foot should be the first priority. Otley Road is a barrier to walking, because it has few crossings, and people are made to wait for an unconscionable length of time before they are allowed to cross. Lights should turn green for pedestrians as soon as they press the button, unless someone has just crossed. Also, people should be given a reasonable amount of time to cross, not made to scurry over the road as though they are an afterthought and a nuisance.
  • A pedestrian and cycle crossing is needed where the corner of West Park Stray meets Otley Road, by Beech Grove.

In August 2017, Hedgehog Cycling reported that the county council had made a bid for DfT funding for, amongst other things, junction improvements and the segregated cycle track.

On 30th November 2017, the Harrogate Advertiser reported that the bid was successful. Some work was due to begin in March 2018, and the creation of the cycle track was scheduled for July 2018. No work appears to have started at the time of writing (mid-June 2018).

In January 2018, the Stray Defence Association raised objections to the cycle track, with the Chairperson of the Association telling the Harrogate Advertiser that the plan would involve the loss of grass verges next to Otley Road, and possibly some trees, that technically form part of the Stray.

Councillor Don Mackenzie of NYCC Highways is confident that the Stray Defence Association objections can be overcome. In the past, land has been set aside elsewhere to replace grass lost in making paths.

The Association is right to be protective of the Stray. Negotiations should lead to a satisfactory compromise, ensuring that the cycle route can be built, and there is no net loss of Stray land.

A segregated cycle route on Otley Road is essential.

Otley Road segregated cycle route: why it is essential

Cyclist on Otley Road

People do use Otley Road on bikes, but my observation is that about half of them find sharing the main carriageway with traffic too hostile an environment, and choose to ride along the pavement instead. If all drivers followed rule 163 of the Highway Code when overtaking, there would be no problem, but they do not. In fact, a Highway Code overtake is a rarity on Otley Road, with most drivers choosing to pass leaving much less space.

Fear of traffic isn't the only problem - there are collisions and injuries too. On 14th June 2018, a cyclist was injured in a collision with a Vauxhall Astra near the Otley Road/Cardale Park junction, and taken to hospital.

Harrogate suffers from congestion problems. People should have a genuine choice about whether to drive and sit in (and worsen) the traffic jams, or whether to use a bike for short distances around town. At the moment too many people don't feel safe cycling, so it is not an option for them.

The air quality on Otley Road is unacceptably poor. I know this from walking on the pavement, and breathing the traffic exhaust fumes. I don't know exactly how bad the air pollution is, because Harrogate BC do not measure it - they say that most of the houses are set back a bit, so they don't have to carry out measurements.

We know that diesel exhaust fumes in particular are very damaging to our health. The fumes are damaging the health of people in the area, including the pupils breathing them in on the way to the schools on and near Otley Road. A safe bike route will at least give people a choice about whether to add to the pollution or not. Consideration should also be given as to whether to follow the example of London and exclude the most polluting vehicles from the centre of town.

Otley Road segregated cycle route: it must be safe and convenient

Copenhagen bike lane
An example of what is possible, from Copenhagen

Like the rest of the UK, Harrogate has more than enough poor quality, non user-friendly 'cycle infrastructure', which is often ignored by people who already cycle, and does not attract new cyclists. We're even building new sub-standard cycle routes now.

I'm not going to go into all the factors that make or break cycle infrastructure, but while the Otley Road route is still being planned, and before mistakes are set in concrete, I would like to say, 'give it priority over side roads'.

If you build a route that gives way to every side road, you may as well not bother. It's just the same as riding on the pavement. The people who currently ride on the pavement will use the cycle track, and everyone else will ignore it.

When cycling, you want a bit of continuity - to be able to get going and keep going, not stop at every side road. If you're going straight on, you should have priority over side roads; if you're turning, give way. It's not asking for special treatment - just for the same priority rules as for vehicles. (While we're about it, we could give the pavement priority over turning vehicles at side roads, as in the photo above).

The alternative is that vehicles on Otley Road (and any bikes that use the road) have priority over side roads, but the bike route doesn't. The message would be: if you're in a car, you're important, if you're on a bike, you're not. It won't encourage people to use the bike route, and won't attract more cyclists.

To be clear, if the bike route is to give way to all the side roads, it will be a waste of time, and personally I won't support it or use it. Let's hope that's not the case.

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Cycling UK poll

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